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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Can Suu Kyi remove constitutional barriers in advance?

By - Zin Linn

Actually, it is too early to start election campaign for Burma's next general elections which are two-year time away from now. But, Major parties like Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) and National League for Democracy (NLD) have now brought to light 2015 elections in order to gain enough seats in coming parliament.

Ahead of the next polls, the first thing that comes up is the question of constitutional review.

Leaders from various ethnic parties said creating federal system is impossible in accord with the 2008 Constitution during a three-day (8 to 10 May) Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Workshop on Burma/Myanmar's constitutional reform organized by The Sydney Law School at Yangon's Mi Casa Hotel.

According to the Eleven Media Group (EMG), Dr Melissa Crouch from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law made a comparison between Indonesian constitution and 2008 constitution of Burma during the second-day session of the workshop.

Dr Crouch said that the National Defense and Security Council has chosen the defense services commander-in-chief. But the constitution states no fixed term or set qualifications for the commander-in-chief. It does not state any rules or laws how to remove the commander-in-chief. The 2008 Constitution gives the military a much bigger role and the defense services commander-in-chief has more power than the president, she said.

Aye Thar Aung, chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy, also made comment that the current constitution does not go with the basic principle of democracy. Besides, it does not lay down accurately the rights of the ethnic people.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and chairperson of the National League for Democracy, also said at a press conference following a three-day workshop that the strict restrictions that make the 2008 Constitution unchangeable must be removed before any constitutional amendment could carry on.

The section 435 of the 2008 Constitution says that if 20 percent of the total number of the Union Parliament representatives submits the Bill to amend the Constitution, it shall be considered by the Union Parliament.

The section 436 continues saying that Constitution shall be amended with the prior approval of more than 75 percent of all the representatives of the Union Parliament, after which in a nation-wide referendum only with the votes of more than half of those who are eligible to vote.

So, it is understandable that the military-made constitution seems unchangeable especially to push out the unelected army representatives from the legislative body.

However, Aung San Suu Kyi has declared her willingness in October 2012 to serve as her country’s president and her party’s intention to amend the undemocratic clauses in the constitution to allow her to do so, according to media News. Suu Kyi said it is her duty as leader of her National League for Democracy to be willing to take the executive office if that is what the people want. She said a clause in the constitution effectively barring her from the job is one of several her party seeks to change.

But, if one looks into the section 59 (f) of the Constitution - Qualifications of the President and Vice-Presidents – it says the presidential candidate shall he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country.

As a result, it is obvious that the section 59 is especially made for Aung San Suu Kyi. Besides, the section 60 also an enormous barrier for Suu Kyi which says, “The President shall be elected by the Presidential Electoral College.” Indisputably, Electoral College members will be chosen along the lines of military’s secured policy.

Furthermore, some of the hardest political stumbling blocks remain with the military that still seizes the vital power. For example, the eleven-member National Defense and Security Council with the President keeps hold of the constitutional right to declare emergency declaration at any time.

Hence, most analysts believe that there will be little hope amending the key sections of the 2008 constitution as the military may not agree to stay away from the legislative body. Although the NLD led by Suu Kyi gained more than 50 percent of the seats through the 2015 general elections, it looks impossible to overcome the constitutional barriers that bar especially for Burma’s Nobel laureate.

Why? It’s not that easy transferring the decision-making power to a non-military candidate because of immeasurable economic interests seized by the name of military safety. The Burmese military set up two economic enterprises, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) in 1990 and 1993 respectively. Both privileged enterprises are still exploiting the country’s key economic sectors with no benefits flowing to the citizens of Burma including ethnic population.

The country’s important natural resources and heavy industries including import, export and service sectors are monopolized and exploited by the UMEHL, MEC and their allies, while the vast majority of citizens have been living in dire poverty for decades.

In brief, the 2008 Constitution gives the military a decisive role through the commander-in-chief who holds more power than the president in order to protect the UMEHL, MEC and their allies. Thus, Aung San Suu Kyi’s constitutional amendment plans have to face a series of resistance controlled by the military’s hidden hand. Burma’s reforms seem mockery lacking key constitutional changes.

- Asian Tribune -

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